06 September 2008

Instinctive horse behaviour

I'm sure many of you will be able to relate to this. You are in the stable happily grooming your horse when he/she inadvertently steps on your foot. Instinctively you place your hands on their shoulder and attempt to push them off your now throbbing foot, only to find that your horse is now adding even more weight on to your dainty tootsies.
Believe it or not but there is a very good reason for this and no, it's not out of vindictiveness on your horses part I can assure you, your horse is merely acting on instinct by moving into the pressure of your pushing hands.
Horses have learnt to move 'into' pressure over the 55 million years they have roamed the earth in order to survive, and it is only through regular training that we can get them to respond to leg aids etc. This instinctive response to move 'into' the pressure came when a horse was attacked by a predator. If say a wolf grabbed a horse by the belly and the horse ran off it's belly would rip open and the horse would die. Horses soon learned that if they step 'into' the pressure of the bite the wolf would think "ooop's, I could get stepped on and end up with a broken leg and then I might die", the wolf would let go and the horse could then run away to live another day.
If ever you get a chance to handle a foal, place your hand on it's shoulder and you will see that the foal instinctively pushes back into your hand.
Now take a moment and think about your own instincts and how hard it is to counteract an instinctive response, and remember, we humans have only been around for approximately 60,000 years compared to the horses 55 million years.

Be aware also that pressure is not only physical it is also spacial. I have seen so many handlers taught to lead a horse with their hand on the lead rope clip and struggle because the horse is too forward going, why, because the fact that their arm is extended out to the horses head and the horse see this as pressure and so moves forward 'into' it. Horses lead so much better if the handler keeps his/her hand close to their own body rather than the horses.

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